Well, that didn't go as planned. About this time one year ago on Fake Teams, I posted a somewhat gushing article praising Desmond Jennings as a player who was about to blossom into a fantasy star. I think I threw out phrases like "25-homer, 50-steal potential", "star and worthy of a high mid-round pick", and "big production" in speaking of Jennings. I was hardly alone in my excitement about his talent, but I may have been leading the pack of those froth-mouthed individuals who insisted he'd be a five-tool fantasy baller. I saw a player who had a nice mix of power, speed, and plate patience, and who had hit like gangbusters in his first month after reaching the major leagues. I don't think I was too out of line in predicting big things for Jennings in 2012.
Well...let's just say that if the Mayans are as crappy at predictions as yours truly, then we have nothing to worry about come Friday. Jennings never truly got his bat going last year and finished with an utterly disappointing .246/.314/.388 line, with 13 home runs, 85 runs scored, and 47 RBIs. His minor league numbers and early showing in 2011 indicated a player who could draw a few walks and utilize his wheels to hit for average, but Jennings's walk rate actually declined and his total of 46 wasn't especially great for a leadoff hitter. Not to mention, Jennings missed nearly all of May due to a DL stay; those who have followed Jennings the past few years know that injuries tend to be a recurring theme in his plot line.
Where he did contribute, of course, was in the stolen base category, and in that department he was very solid. Jennings stole 31 bases in 33 attempts, a total that tied him for ninth (with teammate B.J. Upton) among outfielders. Jennings was a speed demon in the minors and had one 50-steal year between two levels in 2009, so he's definitely going to be a threat on the bases as long as he's healthy. Since Joe Maddon likes to run (the Rays led the AL in stolen base attempts), chances are that If Jennings can stay off the DL for an entire season, he should eclipse 40 stolen bases easily, and he seems to have the talent to nab 50 if one of these years.
Of course, none of this will mean jack if he keeps hitting .240 with no power. Despite his speed, Jennings seems to be following the B.J. Upton career path, with the obvious problem being that he doesn't possess anywhere near Upton's power. Like his newly-departed former teammate, Jennings has a long swing, resulting in a lot of strikeouts and fly balls. For a player with Jennings's speed, you would like to see him hit more line drives and grounders and use his legs to beat out infield hits. If he's simply swinging for the fences all the time, he'll never be a great player.
That's the major problem here. Jennings simply hits too many fly balls, and since he doesn't have tremendous power, all those fly balls find gloves and his batting average tanks. Jennings had a BABIP of .298 in 2012, which is almost exactly the league average, so he wasn't particularly unlucky. His poor batting average came about simply because he hit way more fly balls, while at the same time seeing a much lesser percentage of those fly balls go over the wall (7.5%, as opposed to 11.6% in 2011). It was a perfect storm of balls finding gloves and it turned Jennings' season into a letdown.
So, is this all there is? Not necessarily. Jennings is 26 now, so he doesn't have a heck of a lot of development left. However, his progression through the minors was stunted by injury and he could still be a late bloomer. Plus, I'm a sucker for speed/patience types and Jennings could still muster a 20-homer season or two before all is said and done. If you draft him, you're drafting for upside. He'll absolutely help you in the stolen base category no matter what, and he's more valuable in AL-only formats.
However, for a guy who was touted as a future All-Star, 2012 was pretty worrying. You'd like to see him cut his swing down and raise his average but, really, that just might not be the player that Jennings is. He's still top 25 outfield material simply because of his still-untapped upside and stolen base ability, but his 2012 has me sufficiently spooked that I would no longer recommend reaching for him in a draft with stardom or a breakout in mind.